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Commentary Immigration

Trump’s Pregnant Traveler Ban Is Part of a Long History of Anti-AAPI Immigrant Policy

Sung Yeon Choimorrow

The message is clear: People of color are not welcome in the United States.

Last month, the Trump administration gave the U.S. State Department permission to discriminate against pregnant travelers based on racist and sexist stereotypes about immigrant women of color—a move that falls in line with the United States’ legacy of anti-Asian policies.

The new regulation gives State Department officials with no medical experience vast discretion to deny visas to people they have “reason to believe” are pregnant in order to restrict “birth tourism.” The rule doesn’t apply to tourists from 39 mostly European countries who are allowed to visit without a visa. Unsurprisingly, it predominantly impacts travelers from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. 

Already, an airline, under pressure from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, forced a Japanese woman to take a pregnancy test to prove she was not pregnant before she was allowed to board a flight to Saipan, a U.S. territory, where she lived during her entire childhood. The policy will undoubtedly make traveling to this country more difficult and more demeaning for women of color. And that is its express purpose. 

The rule doesn’t just restrict the freedom of movement of pregnant people globally, it will also stoke fear and confusion in immigrant communities that are already subjected to a battery of blatantly discriminatory policies, racial profiling, and reproductive control. 

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This administration has detained thousands of pregnant women in immigrant detention centers with inhumane conditions and inadequate access to health care; severely limited eligibility for asylum for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors; and tried to coerce detained immigrant minors into carrying their pregnancies to term by blocking their access to abortion and tracked the pregnancies and menstrual cycles of unaccompanied minors in custody.

It doesn’t end there.

Each year, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) tracks legislation at the state and federal level that racially profiles Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) people. So-called sex-selective abortion bans allow doctors to racially profile AAPIs by making it illegal for them to perform an abortion when they suspect the pregnant person is seeking an abortion out of a preference for the sex of the fetus. As a result, the bans require medical professionals to report patients to law enforcement or otherwise risk potential jail time, fines, or lawsuits if they do not comply. These bans are based entirely on stereotypes about son preference in the AAPI community that have been debunked as falsehoods: Asian Americans in the United States are actually having more girls on average than white Americans. 

Just as sex-selective abortion bans burden medical professionals with the responsibility of profiling their patients, consular officers would be similarly burdened under this new State Department rule. Both treat pregnant people of color as inherently guilty, subjecting them to scrutiny and suspicion simply because of their race or country of origin. 

On the third anniversary of the Muslim ban, the Trump administration added six more countries to the list of those that will be turned away from our country, including Muslim refugees fleeing genocide in Myanmar. The U.S. Supreme Court has now sanctioned the administration’s attack on immigrants’ access to public benefits programs, which would force them to choose between getting legal permanent resident status and feeding their children, accessing health care, obtaining housing, and keeping themselves out of poverty.

Government-sanctioned racial profiling and racism didn’t start with the Trump administration. One of the country’s first immigration laws, the Page Act of 1875, explicitly aimed to restrict the entry of women whom border officials deemed “immoral” or likely to engage in prostitution. It racially profiled immigrant Asian women and subjected them to severe interrogations about their motives for traveling to the United States and the means with which they would support themselves—questions with a striking resemblance to those that will be asked of pregnant women seeking tourist visas under this new rule.

The message is clear: People of color are not welcome in the United States.

This latest regulation is another means of blocking entry into the United States of people who look like me. Our president calls us criminals and casts our pregnancies as acts of potential wrongdoing, but he can’t diminish our essential dignity. We—AAPI women and immigrants—will continue to raise our families and take care of our communities in defiance of the racist, sexist policies that would have us live in fear and rob us of our agency.

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